Perfect Partnerships

In the world of business, friends and family can make for successful collaborations

Hubbard Swim School | Phoenix

When Bob and Kathy Hubbard’s kids were growing up, they had to answer the phone at the house, every time it rang, as “Hubbard Swim School.” With eight children, it meant the phone rang a lot, and it also meant friends on the other end of the line were often confused about where exactly they had called.

They had called a home…but it was also a business, one that every family member has had a hand in over the years and many still do to this day. Two decades after its quaint beginning, Hubbard Swim School is preparing to open its fourth location in the Valley later this year.

“We both had an entrepreneurial spirit,” Bob says of himself and his wife, who have worked together full-time since 1992. “Back then, we felt it was time to chase a personal dream and build our own business.”

Despite starting at home, the Hubbard family business doesn’t bring work home, which is one of the reasons Bob believes the company has had such success. It’s a commitment they made to themselves and the business years ago.

“We never break away from a family atmosphere to do business,” he says, pointing to a recent family dinner that brought together about 30 people, many of whom work for the Hubbard Swim School. “When we’re with family as a family, we’re there and we drop the curtain. If there’s work, we do work within a work timeframe.”

And anyone who does work for the business needs to move up through the ranks, even family members. Bob says he believes that it’s important for everyone to earn their positions within the company through experience, also noting that a number of his staff members started as swim instructors.

He said swim instruction is unlike the homebuilding industry, where he made a pit stop earlier in his professional life. With swimming, experience breeds invaluable expertise.

“I can’t swing a hammer for beans, but I could manage people who know what they’re doing,” he says. “But here, we’re so hands on, you have to know the ‘whys.’ ”

Ben’s Saddlery | Wickenburg

Bruce Meier knows his way around a saddle, but he admits he wouldn’t know what to do without his wife working by his side. As owners of Ben’s Saddlery in Wickenburg, the two split their duties at the 70-year-old business allowing each of them to flourish where they are most skilled.

Bruce handles all of the custom saddle work, and Jennifer takes care of the retail area.

“So far, we’ve been able to make it all work. I’d be lost without her if she wasn’t here,” Meier says of his wife. “She takes care of the people up front. That’s a huge part of our business. It’s probably 70 percent of our business.”

Ben’s Saddlery is somewhat of a landmark in a town that is known for its equestrians and its enthusiasm for team roping. It opened in 1949 and since, has changed ownership only twice, both by using the same apprenticeship-themed formula. Meier was trained on all the techniques Ben Billingsley learned before taking the store over from its original owner in the late 1970s.

Except, Meier never thought he would own the place.

“My plan was to work for him the rest of my life. I thought I’d be lucky to keep this thing afloat for two years,” Meier admits about his shaky confidence as he entered an ownership role. “The other shoe was going to drop, I knew it. But we made it work despite ourselves.”

Meier says Ben’s Saddlery does more saddle repair than anybody in the entire Southwest, and its retail area is always stocked with upwards of 500 pairs of boots and other western necessities.

Of course, some people just stop in to have a look. They want to see how saddles and chaps are made. And Meier loves that.

“It’s a real novelty for them to see people working on saddles or sewing a pair of chaps,” he says. “We’re extremely blessed to be where we are as far as what our store is and what we do and where we live.”

Del Sol Furniture | Phoenix

Alex Macias remembers spending his weekends as a kid at a Phoenix swap meet. For his parents, owners of Del Sol Furniture, the swap meet was the most cost-effective marketing tactic at the time.

More than 20 years later, Del Sol Furniture has three locations and Macias, the company’s vice president, has 12 official years of experience in the family business, not counting the weekends when he helped out as a kid.

“We have a 44,000-square-foot warehouse now,” Macias says of how the business has matured over the years from the small storefront where it began. “We probably have 20,000 products, as well.”

The success of the business, which Macias runs with his parents and his cousin, is anything but accidental. When it began, Macias says his parents recognized an opportunity to work with an underserved Hispanic market and, as immigrants to the U.S., the two understood the culture and language better than their competitors.

“It was what they knew,” Macias says. “Nobody else was going after that consumer.”

And, they made a strategic decision to offer in-house credit for customers who are increasingly shifting from purchases that are needed to ones that are wanted.

While things are subtly changing in terms of how often Macias sees his mother at work, he admits he doesn’t expect to see the day where she retires in a traditional sense. The store is her passion.

“I don’t think my mom is ever going to be done working. She loves it,” Macias says. “We work well together and it’s nice to have lunch with her every day that she comes in. I plan to do this as long as I can. I really enjoy it.”

Purse Hoarder Boutique | Golden Valley

Nicky Granniss wanted nothing to do with guns, until one was pointed at her 30 years ago. Now, she channels the life-altering experience as a survivor of gun violence to make a statement by selling handbags specifically designed to carry concealed weapons.

“I’m all for women protecting themselves. It’s not guns that kill. It’s people,” Granniss, who was shot five times, says. “To me, it’s a strong testimony to the fact you can get through anything. I’m proud that I walked away from that.”

After recovering from the shooting, learning to use a weapon and taking a concealed weapons course, Granniss opened Purse Hoarder Boutique in 2014. She and her business partner Norma Thaxter (aka The Purse Lady) are based in Golden Valley, but the bulk of their business is done at vendor-driven events and gun shows.

“We have a pretty big following there,” Granniss says.

One of the reasons Purse Hoarder is so popular among women who carry concealed weapons is because each of the bags sold by Granniss and her partner is exclusive. They only stock one of each bag, which they say, gives the woman buying it a unique confidence in knowing they’ve snagged an exclusive buy.

And if they don’t carry a weapon? They just enjoy the extra pocket.

Granniss and her partner, a woman Granniss considers “like family,” also both have a keen understanding of the market they serve. Not only does their clientele champion the second amendment, but they’re also frequently dog lovers.

Knowing that, Granniss creates western and Second Amendment-themed dog cushions that Purse Hoarder sells at the shows it attends throughout the year.

“It’s something I love to do,” Granniss says of the cushions. “You gotta do what you gotta do for small business. You look for every opportunity.”

 

Story: Lisa Van Loo

Photos: Mark Lipczynski

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